Patricia Neal: Veteran Film and Stage Actress

August 8th 2010, marked another day America lost one of its classic Hollywood film stars and Broadway stage actress – Patricia Neal. Her best-known films include The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), where she plays a role as a World War II widow; and a wealthy matron in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961); as well as Alma Brown, a middle-aged housekeeper in Hud (1963). No matter what film she performed in, I always enjoyed her superb acting.
Patricia Neal was born Patsy Louise Neal in Packard, Kentucky and grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee where she studied drama at Northwestern University.
Ms. Neal moved to New York and got her first job as understudy in the Broadway production, The Voice of the Turtle. Her next play was Another Part of the Forest (1946), which won her a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Play.

Her Hollywood film debut was John Loves Mary (1949) and in the same year. The Fountainhead, where she began her affair with her co-star, Gary Cooper, who was married. Patricia had met Gary in 1947 when she was 21 and he was 46. In 1950, Veronica’s wife found out about the relationship and sent Patricia a telegram demanding that the affair end. In the meantime, Patricia found out she was pregnant and Cooper persuaded her to have an abortion. ii The affair ended, just after Gary Cooper’s daughter, Maria Cooper, (later Maria Cooper Janis) spat upon Patricia Neal in public. iii Years after Gary Cooper’s death, Maria and Veronica reconciled with Patricia Neal.
Patricia met Roald Dahl, a British writer at a dinner party in 1951 and were married on July 2nd 1953. They had five children. iv Patricia’s granddaughter, Sophie Dahl, is an actress and model.
By the time 1952 rolled around she had starred in The Breaking Point, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Operation Pacific. It was during this time she suffered a nervous breakdown after the end of her relationship with Gary Cooper, returning to Broadway in The Children’s Hour (1952). In 1955 she performed in A Roomful of Roses and in 1959 as the mother in The Miracle Worker. She returned to films and starred as A Face in the Crowd (1957) and co-starred in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961).
In the early 1960s, Patricia and Roald experienced tragedy when one child was seriously injured and another died. In December of 1960, their son, Theo, died at four months old from brain damage when his baby carriage was struck by a taxicab in New York City. In November of 1962, their daughter, Olivia, died at age 7 from measles encephalitis. While Patricia was pregnant in 1965, Patricia experienced three cerebral aneurysms and was in a coma for three weeks. Dahl helped in her rehabilitation and she relearned how to walk and talk. Patricia gave birth to a healthy daughter, Lucy.
In 1963, Patricia Neal won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Hud, co-starring with Paul Newman. During this time she also collected other awards like Best Leading Actress from the New York Film Critics, the National Board of Review, and a BAFTA award from the British Academy.
In 1965, she was reunited with John Wayne in the film directed by Otto Preminger, In Harm’s Way, which won her a second BAFTA award.
In 1967, Patricia Neal was offered the role as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, but turned it down because it had been too soon after recovering from three strokes in 1965. She returned to Hollywood and performed in The Subject Was Roses in 1968, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award.
One of the best classic made-for-TV movies was due to her performance in The Homecoming: A Christmas Story in 1971, which was actually the pilot episode for The Waltons, which became a long-running series. Oddly, despite winning the Golden Globe for her performance in the pilot film, she was not invited to continue her role in the television series – the part went to Michael Learned, who performed admirably. Waltons creator, Earl Hamner, said he and the producers were not sure if Patricia Neal’s health would allow her to perform in a weekly television series. v
I managed to catch the 1975 episode of NBC’s Little House on the Prairie where Patricia Neal portrayed a dying widowed mother trying to find a home for her three children, one of the most moving scenes I had ever seen. It reinforced my respect for her talent.
In 1978, the Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center in Knoxville dedicated the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in her honor. She appeared in advertisements for the Center in the year of 2006.
Despite her continued health problems, she made appearances, like in 2007, in the art movie: Beyond Baklava: The Fairy Tale Story of Sylvia’s Baklava, appearing in portions of the documentary.
Because she was one of the first winner’s of the Tony Awards since its inception, she has often appeared on the Tony Awards telecast. She had lost her original Tony award, so Bill Irwin gave her a replacement when they presented the Best Actress Award to Cynthia Nixon in 2006.
In April of 2009, Patricia Neal received a lifetime achievement award from WorldFest Houston on the occasion of her debut of her film, Flying By.
Patricia and Dahl’s marriage lasted for 30 years, through tragic times, but ended in divorce in 1983 after Patricia discovered Dahl was having an affair with her friend, Felicity Crosland. vi
Patricia Neal published an autobiography entitled As I Am, published in 1988. In 1981, Glenda Jackson player her in a television movie role in The Patricia Neal Story, co-starring Dick Bogarde as Roald Dahl, her husband.
Her life was just as dramatic as her roles in films and stage. But she kept her sense of humor somehow.
Patricia Neal died at her home in Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts on August 8th 2010 of lung cancer at the age of 84.
Wikipedia has a filmography posted the Patrica Neal posting. 
An excellent story by The Globe and Mail, Canadian author, actress, and friend of Patricia, Gale Zoë Garnett, is posted on the website.
iii Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life; Kentucky University Press, 2006; p. 88.
vi Celebrity Corner; Knight-Ridder; 1983.

2 comments on “Patricia Neal: Veteran Film and Stage Actress

  1. Ms. Neal is really a good actress. Based on her life story that I have red on your article she is quite different and adventurous a little bit. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks, Armil … glad you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it.Patricia was a spunky gal, but due to tragedies, she had to be. Thanks for commenting and taking the time to stop by.Best Regards …KAL

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